A love note to all you parents as summer descends

Every year around this time, I make what I always believe is an excellent decision: to leave the first few days (or more!) of summer break gloriously unstructured, so that the kids can enjoy unrushed mornings and doing whatever they please while I casually get some work done and complete a few projects around the house. Or, I don’t know, maybe read a book while everyone plays.

And every year, around this time, I immediately realize that this is a grave error. Not just a grave error, but a gross misunderstanding of my own children. Of human nature, really.

My kids got out of school a week ago. This morning I witnessed fight #5697382 since that time. Right now? My son is in his underwear because the only shorts that are clean - and let me mention that there are a lot of shorts that are clean - are not a length that he finds suitable, he’s decided. So he is in his underwear and he is playing his own compositions on the piano. While I am happy he’s exercising his creativity, his process requires hitting the keys as hard as possible and some of his pieces are, shall we say, modern and abstract? Disjointed and alarming?

My four-year-old is screaming and, good news, she is headed this way, most likely to inform me of whatever injustice prompted the screaming. The injustices? They are many, and include quite a few that I’ve committed, including the fact that I won’t let her watch 16 episodes of “Sofia The First,” in a row, despite the fact that she has told me on numerous occassions that when the show ends, it is not really over, because you find out MORE THINGS in the next one, and wisely explained, “wouldn’t it be calmer around the house if you would just let me watch one more?” which is annoying, because it’s true. But I won’t because, I don’t know, 16 episodes is too much? So the wild kicking of her legs begins, and, because she is rather dramatic when she feels she has been betrayed, she is telling me that she “wishes she had a regular mommy,” and when I ask her what she means by “regular,” she smiles at me and says, “a mommy who isn’t bad to me all the time.”

My 10-year-old is still tired from a sleepover we hosted the night before last and is hiding in her room. When a sibling comes near the door - and she can sense this using her near-pre-teen superpowers at this point - she yells, “LEAVE ME ALONE” loud enough to rouse neighboring towns, and when I approach to see if someone is being murdered, because the fortitude of her protest suggests nothing less than a brutal killing, I find out, no, that someone was thinking of entering her space, and can’t they see that she wants - nay - needs, to be by herself?

Me? I thought I’d finish up what should have been a fairly easy editing project this morning, but it’s proving difficult. It’s not a difficult task, really, but it is a task that, it turns out, requires a basic level of peace or, at least, not being prodded by one child with a stick from where she is standing on the seat of the chair that, by the way, I am already sitting in, while another runs in and out of his big sister’s room, diving under her bed and then out again for no reason but to torture her while she proclaims that, YES, she is being tortured, and all I can think is, YOU GUYS IT IS SUMMER FOR CHRISTS SAKE WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE IN SUCH CLOSE PROXIMITY TO YOUR MOTHER WHEN YOU COULD BE OUT RIDING YOUR BIKE OR SOMETHING?


Summer! This bold and complex season. This sweaty, gorgeous interlude. While I complain (and holy hell, I will continue to complain) I did take a moment this morning - after telling my children to eat whatever they wanted, I don’t care anymore, because they were hungry again, what in the world, have we not had like seven different breakfasts already? - to remember that despite the fact that I put myself through this ritual of self-induced punishment on an annual basis, that summer also means scooping restless children into the car and onto the hot sand of one of the Connecticut or Maine beaches we frequent, then instructing them to “go!” Which they do! Swimming and building for hours. And walking barefoot to the neighborhood pool that is right across the street, taking nothing more than a couple towels (somehow never the right number), where there are friends for us all and I’m glad enough to be there to relent to insistent snack bar pressure. And, yes, unhurried mornings that are, in truth, lovely, before the first brawl. Favorite summer camps and outdoor dining. Laying in the too-hot sun and never thinking it’s too hot because the summer is just short enough to never completely get over my often-harsh feelings about the winter.

Parents, and everyone else adjusting to a more lax schedule: I wish you joy in this yearly madness. I wish you real vacation vibes and strong pours and escapes to quiet enclaves of your houses. I wish you a few, good rainy days where maybe everyone does read quietly for a few hours, and sunny, smiling, busy hours.

Because, of course, that’s what we’ll all remember. We’ll remember the good times so well that next year, around this time, we’ll welcome the unstructured days with open arms, excited and gullible and ready. For a good five minutes or so. And those five minutes are going to feel amazing.

Summer goals 2019

In years past, as the days get hotter, I get excited about grilling all sorts of adventurous things (and then usually don’t), bedtimes extend until the sun sets later and later and we think about all the events we should schedule over the next few months while maintaining a steady stream of downtime, I have often turned to making a list of summer goals, at once whimsical and logical. Some about getting things done, some about ensuring I make time for fun, superfluous experiences.

I’ve skipped it in recent years, not on purpose, but probably because there was a lot going on, I was immersed in other, different sets of goals, or just that summer was already coursing full blast through our systems and our non-air-conditioned rooms before I really thought about it.

This year, though, my household is going through a very goal-y period, and I started thinking about making a list again. Gabe’s joined J in his love of birding and the two of them are trying to get us all to do a “big month,” seeing as many species as we can throughout June (don’t tell them but I’m not sure I can convince myself to take on this endeavor). Both older kids proclaimed they want to read 50 books this summer (50?! what?!) and we’ve already put a number of items on the calendar: trips and concerts, a family wedding and get togethers with friends, all of which I’m really looking forward to, prompting me to think about the possibilities attached to each one. Because as I’ve said before, when you’re making a list like this - for fun - it’s ok to put stuff you already know you’re going to do. I mean, with “finish Ulysses” a contender for years now, I need a little headstart on this thing.

I started thinking up ideas immediately. Food I’ve been craving made me want to visit the Long Wharf taco trucks (again) and make a date to get dim sum some weekend afternoon. The fact that Nora tends to be far less picky when she helps me cook prompted me to think about doing it with her more often (while Gabe suggested the goal about he and I making an exciting meal together, as he loves coming up with inventive and sometimes questionable culinary creations). I decided to reach and put “meditate every day” even though…every day!? good luck!…because “Wherever You Go There You Are” had such a big impact on me but I’ve let the impact slide, and put the goal about exercising, which I’m not doing as much as I’d like, but added the “most,” because while I really do feel better when I start the day with some - any - movement, hey, it’s summer. Visit Canada and see live music outside because those are some of those already-planned items, but it still feels good to put them down in writing; something to look forward to, and plan. Some I’ll complete and some probably not, but I’ll have a guide to look to when a few free hours present themselves.

Make rice krispies treats with the kids because - hold up - I have never made rice krispies treats with my kids before. Please be gentle in your judgment of this oversight.

That last one especially made me think about the strangeness of coming up with goals like this when there are so many serious issues to fight and consider in the world. Not that the world has ever been a completely sane place but…make rice krispies treats? Seriously? When there are cultural and political problems that seem so insurmountable, but could obviously use some surmounting on my part?

And I guess my answer - although I feel I lack the proper words to say it gracefully - is…yeah. Work towards a better world, and make marshmallow concoctions with my children. Look for the goodness everywhere and look for it right in front of you.

However, I did also decide to put a few more serious goals on the list with this in mind. I wish I could be the kind of person who simply does these more serious things as part of her nature, but the truth is I’m much more likely to take part in a march or rally - something I believe is important and meaningful - if I make a point of saying out loud that I want to do it.

That’s what it’s all about really: saying out loud that I want to do it, to all of you, so you can hold me accountable. And maybe (please?!) so you can come along for some of the ride.

  1. pick fruit at a farm

  2. drink a local beer in Rhode Island

  3. learn to sail (at least a little)

  4. take a trip to Canada

  5. have ice cream at Wentworth in Hamden

  6. visit the Long Wharf taco trucks

  7. read a book about climate change

  8. eat lobster with an old friend

  9. hear live music outside

  10. meditate every day

  11. jump in the ocean

  12. cook with Nora

  13. exercise (most) weekdays

  14. go on a stroll through Boothbay Harbor like my dad used to do

  15. work on a book of essays

  16. declutter the attic

  17. plan and make an exciting meal with Gabe

  18. attend a rally or march

  19. get dim sum

  20. run the New Haven road race

  21. walk on the rocks with Maisie

  22. make rice krispies treats with my kids

  23. have an ice cold martini with J

  24. get the podcast going (KATE!)

  25. grill something adventurous

  26. paint the front door a different color

  27. finish “Ulysses”